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September 25, 2017 4:02 pm

Saudi Newspaper: ‘No Lasting Peace Can Exclude Hamas and its Supporters’

avatar by Ben Cohen

New Hamas leader in Gaza Yahya Sinwar (right) attending a unity rally with his predecessor Ismail Haniyeh. Photo: File.

Despite an all-time low in relations between the Riyadh government and the Palestinian terrorist organization Hamas, a leading Saudi newspaper has offered a cautious welcome to the current reconciliation process between Hamas and its rival Fatah as they prepare for next week’s session of the Palestine National Council in Gaza — the first such meeting in three years.

“That Hamas and Fatah will confront their differences and resolve their issues allows for a new phase of Palestinian politics that will bring back the focus on ending Israel’s occupation and the Palestinian campaign for statehood,” the English-language Saudi Gazette stated in an editorial on Saturday. “No lasting peace with the Palestinians can exclude Hamas and its supporters.”

The editorial suggested that Hamas still has opportunity to get back into the good graces of Saudi officials if it falls into line behind the kingdom’s “Arab Peace Initiative,” which calls for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“Hamas should become part of the Palestinian political system rather than remaining outside it, upending any serious negotiations or a potential peace deal,” the paper said. “A united Palestinian people is more conducive to a successful peace process than Palestinians split and in conflict.”

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At the same time, the paper urged caution with regard to the fruits of any Hamas-Fatah rapprochement, pointing to six failed attempts since 2007 — when the Fatah-dominated PA was violently expelled from Gaza — to bring the two sides together.

“For reconciliation to work, either the PA will give up its security collaboration or Hamas its armed resistance,” the paper said. “Neither seems to be likely at the moment. Hamas is committed to a policy of armed resistance — three wars fought between it and Israel since 2008 — while the Palestinian Authority is committed to security coordination with Israel.”

Since King Salman’s accession to the Saudi throne in 2015, relations with Hamas have reached a nadir. For much of the 2000s, Saudi Arabia was one of the main financiers of the Islamist movement; now, in contrast, Saudi Arabia classifies the Muslim Brotherhood, the parent organization of Hamas, as a “terrorist organization,” while the kingdom’s current conflict with Qatar centers on Doha’s continued financial support of Hamas and other Islamist groups.

In particular, Saudi Arabia has regarded the relationship between Hamas and Iran — damaged by the war in Syria, but now warming up again considerably — with alarm. In June, Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir declared, “Enough is enough — Qatar should stop supporting groups such as Hamas” only days after Hamas foreign relations chief Osama Hamdan complained, “Our relationship with Saudi Arabia is at a standstill at the moment.”

Recent developments are unlikely to restore the Saudis’ faith in Hamas as a responsible actor. In a new briefing published by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs think-tank, IDF Lt. Col. (ret.) Michael Segall argued that in the wake of a Russian-brokered ceasefire in Syria, “Iran is working to unite the ranks of the ‘resistance camp’ to continue the struggle against Israel and deepen the dissension in the Arab world.”

“Iran views Hamas, despite its independent path, as an important element of this camp that challenges not only Israel but also the main members of the ‘moderate’ Arab camp, and hence contributes to bolstering its influence in the region,” Segall said.

Segall noted that relations between Hamas and Iran were given a significant boost in February by the election of Yahya Sinwar as the Hamas chief in Gaza. Sinwar has since declared that Hamas was “continuing to prepare its members for the task of liberating Palestine…and the Islamic Republic of Iran is playing a central role toward achieving this objective with financial and military assistance and the training of Hamas’ military wing — Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades.”

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